The fight for 'Quiet Man' cottage
The wonderful thatched cottage from John Ford's The Quiet Man, the blockbuster that brought Ireland to Hollywood in glorious technicolour for the first time, has gone to wrack and ruin.
But efforts to restore 'White O'Morn' -- the cottage where John Wayne wooed Maureen O'Hara in the 1951 movie -- has hit another snag after nearly 20 years of campaigning.
Even personal letters and emails from Culture Minister Jimmy Deenihan have failed to get a response from the owner of the cottage, a California-based Canadian, Gregory Ebbitt, who has ignored all unofficial and official entreaties to save and restore the cottage or to sell it to someone who will -- including the State.
Mr Deenihan wrote and emailed several times confirming that the State would be amenable to coming to an arrangement, providing funding and assistance to save the cottage.
However, his correspondence has yet to receive a response. Neither have numerous contacts by local campaigners over the years.
Mr Ebbitt, who bought the cottage and land back in 1985 and who promised at the time to restore the cottage, appears to have fallen out with Ireland.
Now a team of campaigners want the cottage and 11 acres near Maam in North Connemara rebuilt in time for upcoming massive tourism event, The Gathering, which is expected to attract up to 325,000 extra visitors into Ireland in 2013.
The cottage could be a jewel in the crown of Irish tourism, bringing prosperity and jobs to the area, which has been badly hit by the downturn.
Even in its current state there is a steady stream of visitors from all over the world who pick their way through the mud-strewn path to gaze at the dilapidated wreck.
Many have taken stones home as souvenirs and some years ago there was a YouTube video, since removed, in which an American woman sat in front of her fire boasting that every stone in her fireplace had come from the Quiet Man cottage.
If sensitively renovated, the cottage could bring even more visitors to the beauty spot some 11 miles from Cong, where thousands of Quiet Man fans converge every year.
Among the options is using legislation to save the cottage under the National Monuments Act 1994 on the basis that the structure is of artistic, cultural or historic importance. Another option is a compulsory purchase order under the Planning and Development Act 2000.
Among those campaigning to have the cottage restored is Paddy McCormick, based in Toronto, and Galway-based Paddy Rock and Mike Ward, who have met with Mr Deenihan.
Mr Ward told the Sunday Independent: "Mr Ebbitt has so far refused to engage with us on this. The story is that he was in Connemara on holiday with his wife in the mid-Eighties and spotted the For Sale sign outside the cottage and bought it. He said at the time he was going to restore the whole thing, do it up and open it up to the public. Since then, more than 25 years ago, nothing has been done.
"Offers have been made, considerably over and above the market value, but without success. Even offers to fully fund the restoration of the cottage, while leaving it within the possession and ownership of the owner, have been rejected," he said.
Local TD Michelle Mulherrin said: "For millions of Irish Americans in particular, the thatched cottage from the Quiet Man film is a symbol of Ireland. It should be a tourism and heritage icon, but unfortunately it is in a state which is nothing short of embarrassing. The roof is gone and the site is effectively an overgrown ruin.
"The scene of John Wayne kissing Maureen O'Hara at the door of the cottage is one of the most iconic in the history of film and regularly features in montages of great Hollywood scenes, including at the Oscars ceremony.
"Many fans of the film who visit Cong find the cottage a massive letdown and express amazement that it has been allowed to fall into such disrepair. If we are serious about attracting visitors to our shores, we need to provide them with an experience that they will cherish," she said.
Mr Ebbitt did not respond to phone calls or emails from the Sunday Independent.